Kristin provided a fantastic camping gear checklist in her blog How to Go Dispersed Camping in Northern Colorado. As Kristin mentioned in the post, with dispersed camping (or what my kids call car camping) you can pack as heavy or as light as your heart desires. Feel like bringing your comfy pillow? Sure! Want to cook with a cast-iron Dutch oven? Why not, right? But when it comes to camping in remote areas, space and weight are at a premium when you pack everything in on your back.
This summer, Sam and I went on a 15-mile backpacking trip into Indian Peaks Wilderness. We took Cascade Creek Trail from the Monarch Lake Trailhead to Crater Lake. The waterfalls along the trail were cranking, and the views of Lone Eagle Peak from our tent were stunning.
Warm summer weather makes it easier to pack light. And quite frankly, I don’t enjoy camping when daytime temps are below freezing. As we head into the month of September, there’s still time to explore the backcountry before the weather turns consistently colder and camping gets more complicated.
Here’s my checklist whenever I go warm-weather backpacking:
- Identify and research the area where you want to go.
- Print a topographical map and know how to read it. Don’t rely on your phone and Google maps – the battery can die, and you probably won’t have service while you’re in the backcountry.
- While you’re online, determine if a backcountry permit is required. If yes, call the appropriate ranger station to secure it as early as possible. Many permits for popular areas, during peak summer months, sell out well in advance.
- Look at fire and pet restrictions (are campfires and pets prohibited?) and food storage restrictions (do you need a bear canister?).
- While you’re on the phone with the ranger, ask if there are any trail conditions or negative wildlife encounters you should know about.
- Before you hit the road, check out road closures and weather conditions.
- Tell a friend or relative your plans BEFORE you head to the hills.
- Pack food according to fire and food storage restrictions, and the duration of your trip. If you can’t have a fire, then you certainly can’t cook with one. If you’re going for a week, then don’t pack perishable items that need refrigeration.
- Pack water according to the duration or your trip and its availability on the trail. Will there be a fresh water source you can sterilize? If not, this will dramatically affect how you pack and consume water on the trip.
- PACK THE NIGHT BEFORE. It always takes longer than you think.
- And while you’re at it, trim your toenails the night before. It will save you from losing them on long hikes, or hikes with dramatic elevation changes.
- Fill the car with gas.
- If you’re going someplace, like Rocky Mountain National Park, that requires a fee to enter the park, don’t forget to bring your annual pass or some money.
- Get to the trailhead EARLY, especially if you’re going over the weekend. Even if you have a backcountry permit, camping spots are typically first come, first served. The early bird usually gets the better camp site.
- Check in at the ranger station, or at minimum sign the backcountry log at the trailhead. Affix the permit to your backpack. Make sure parking passes (if necessary) are displayed in your car according to the directions on the pass.
- LOCK YOUR CAR and take your keys. Don’t leave valuables in plain view.
- Internal frame backpack with hip and chest buckles
- GOOD tent (with rain fly) or hammock (with netting and rain fly) – make sure water-proofing is up to snuff
- Sleeping bag (down-filled with 0-degree rating)
- Sleeping pad
- Rain cover for pack
- Water filter hand pump or steri-pen. Know how to use it before you go
- Jetboil (or similar) stove, FULL fuel canister, Jetboil metal 1-liter cup to boil water, and lighter(or flint and steel fire starter)
- Multi-tool with knife
- One titanium spork. This and a sharp knife are the only utensils I need backpacking
- Collapsible rubber bowl and cup (awesome, but not critical) or nesting titanium cookware
- Headlamp with FRESH batteries
- Biodegradable soap (if going longer than a few days)
- Camelback water bladder, filled. Note: Camelbacks are great in the summer, but terrible in cold months when the line freezes quickly
- One, 1-liter Nalgene water bottle to purify water
- A few feet of duct tape(wrap it around your Nalgene)
- Several feet of cord (to tie up your food and trash)
- Trash bags (like Kristin says: pack it in, pack it out!)
- Small roll of TP, plastic bag, wet wipes, TROWEL (to dig cat holes for your poo)
- Serious insect repellent!
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Prescription meds (I take my asthma inhaler)
- Rubberbands (to hold hair back)
- Emergency whistle and first-aid kit (always include feminine supplies)
- Trekking poles (these are life savers with a heavy pack)
- Nylon convertible shorts/pants (shants!) that dry quickly
- Sweat-wicking t-shirt
- Lightweight long-sleeve wicking shirt
- Hat with brim
- Undies and wool wicking socks(multiple)
- Hiking boots or trail runners (depending on the trip and terrain)
- Mid-layer jacket
- Puffy down jacket, light gloves and beanie for evenings and elevation
- Rain/wind shell jacket
- Comfy pants and extra t-shirt (will add weight, but so worth it)
- Cheap flip flops
- Bandana or a headband (bandanas come in handy a lot)
- Dry foods you can rehydrate with boiled water
- Supplies for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner
- Did I mention the importance of water? If you don’t have clean water to drink, go home
- Dog food and water dish if you’re bringing your pup
Remember to be bear aware. Don’t store food in your tent. Ever. Hang it in a bag, high from a tree and well away from camp, or use a bear canister. This goes for trash, too. I use a plastic bag, inside my empty tent bag, to hang food and trash.
Speaking of food, there are some good dehydrated food options that are easy to pack. At REI, I bought a Mountain House brand New Orleans Style Rice with Shrimp and Ham that was both tasty and horribly expensive.
But you don’t have to spend a fortune at REI to pack some great meals. Here is Sam’s go-to hot meal that tastes crazy-good after a long day of hiking:
Sam’s Mashed Sausage
- 4-oz. bag of “Idahoan” applewood smoked bacon dehydrated cheesy mashed potatoes (King Soopers had these on sale 10 for $10)
- Half log of summer sausage
Heat two cups of water using your Jetboil. Dump dried potatoes into a small cooking pot. Add boiling water and mix with spork until combined. Cut up summer sausage and add to potatoes. Enjoy!
When Sam first told me about this simple recipe, I thought it sounded totally gross. Believe me, it is manna from heaven while backpacking. I recommend one full bag per ravenous camper.
- Phone, camera, solar charger (yes, phones are optional … sheesh)
- Permanent marker and some scratch paper (this comes in handy more than you know)
- Playing cards
- Small chairs you can strap to the outside of your pack. The half-sized, legless ones are great for sitting and resting your achy back next to a creek, near the fire or in your tent.
- Beer and coffee
- Fishing pole and gear
Just remember a lighter pack usually makes for a happier hiker. Tailor your supplies to fit your individual style, planned activities and the number of days you’ll be in the backcountry.
Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy the experience and have fun. Feel confident and self-sufficient as you hike miles knowing everything you need is balanced on your strong shoulders. Have fun experimenting with freeze-dried recipes, and sneaking treats into your pack so you can surprise your fellow backpackers with a beer or bars of chocolate after dinner. Enjoy exploring those really special outdoor places that take some extra effort to get to. Trust me, all the thoughtful planning and packing is well worth it.